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May 16th, 2020
Hofstadter’s Law states that everything takes longer than anticipated, even when Hofstadter’s Law is accounted for. Despite the delightful humor of this recursive law, it is excruciatingly on point, as anyone who has ever tried to accomplish anything will know.
There is much to bemoan regarding the promises and ills of technology. Every new update seems accompanied by some new break and bug in the system. But these annoyances are mere details when we zoom out and look at trends on a long enough timeline. Technology clearly has a tendency to create something new, and then double back on it’s own own progress to improve the process of that progress. This results in a jerky forward and backward motion of progress.
Take for instance locomotion. We started with just our own two feet. And then we hopped on a horse and became quite a bit faster going anywhere. Then of course we built the carriage and the wagon and our speed slowed and so did the scope of places we could go. Four wooden wheels are quite limited compared to four hooves.
Eventually we built the automobile, which is faster than any horse, but this development also required the building of roads. It’s in the coupling of automobile and road that we see technology compounding with an interesting variation of speeds. A car is faster than a horse, but a horse moves much faster than the construction of a road. In many ways the road is the more important technology when paired with the car. Every car is going to be far slower if it doesn’t have a road. We ultimately saw the wisdom of slowing way down to build the road which would create a much faster infrastructure for cars. The road isn’t an automation of a process but it’s similar. It’s a smoothing of a crucial part of that allows for a huge enhancement later on down in the locomotive process.
What seems like an adjunct technology is actually essential. After all, people spend their time ogling cars, not the beauty of the roads they ride upon.
This essential supplementation occurs all over the place. With the written word, at first we painstakingly inscribed each letter. Then we developed the press which enabled us to copy large portions of text quickly, then typewriters enabled for the fast production of custom print, and now with computers language can be captured, edited, copied and saved at speeds that are only limited by the flicker of fingers across keyboards. Attempts are even now being made to remove the necessity of our hands while writing. Just imagine, composing text as fast as you can think.
This concept of greasing the rails, or smoothing the path of our technologies, can extend even into personal areas regarding how we function. People engage in this sort of development all the time while building businesses. But something like exercising or meditating can be regarded as having a similar effect on the mind. 20 minutes of meditation can, with time and practice, function like a smooth road for the mind to operate on.
One might see meal prep for the week in a similar light. Instead of stopping and restarting the same process with food everyday or several times a day, it suddenly collapses to mere grab and go.
Each habit that we posses or wish to posses can benefit in similar ways. We need only ask: where is the friction in my life? And what would a road look like?
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